President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter were still committed to the nomination of Eric Fanning as Army Secretary despite the long-running dispute with one senator blocking a confirmation vote over the separate issue of Guantanamo, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said Monday.
Fanning, who would become the first openly gay civilian head of a service branch, was “the president’s nominee for that position and we certainly look to continue to work with Congress to try and expedite his nomination, Cook said at a Pentagon news conference. “We think he has the background and qualities that would make him an excellent fit in that job.”
Fanning won approval by a voice vote on March 10 from the Senate Armed Services Committee. The next step to confirmation would be vote on the floor by the full Senate, but Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, was continuing with his “hold” on the nomination to block a vote.
Roberts has said repeatedly that Fanning’s sexual orientation had nothing to do with his blocking the nomination. Instead, the senator said he wants a guarantee from the administration and the Pentagon that if any prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility are ever transferred to the U.S., they will not be sent to Kansas. The Pentagon has explored the possibility of transferring some of the detainees to Fort Leavenworth.
After the committee approved sending Fanning’s nomination to the full Senate, Sarah Little, a spokesman for Roberts, said, “The senator's hold on Eric Fanning is not personal. The senator has asked the administration to provide a guarantee that detainees will not wind up in Kansas, as he was able to do when this issue first arose in 2009.”
Roberts also “remains committed to stopping the president from moving a single detainee to the U.S. and will continue to use all legislative tools at his disposal to do so,” Little said.
Obama nominated Fanning, who previously served as acting Air Force secretary, last September to replace Army Secretary John McHugh, who retired in December.
Fanning was initially serving as acting Army Secretary during the much-delayed nomination process but was forced to shift to other duties in the Pentagon when senators complained that he could not hold the “acting” title after being nominated.
Former Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Pennsylvania Democrat, has been serving as acting Army Secretary while Fanning’s nomination remains in limbo. Murphy, an Army veteran, is the first person who served in Iraq to be elected to Congress and represented Pennsylvania there from 2007-11.
“We think the best place for Eric Fanning would be in the position of secretary of the Army and the secretary [Carter] will continue to work to make that happen,” Cook said.